Over the last 18 months we’ve seen the rise of two things (well, at least two): Low cost, low powered notebooks and a common name for this type of device: netbooks. Unfortunately, the term netbook is a registered trademark of Psion, a company that put out a device back in the early part of the millenium bearing that name. Psion hasn’t released a computing device under the netbook name since 2003, but the company does still offer peripherals.


Psion sort of came out of the wordwork and started making moves to protect its trademark a few months ago. In fact, this month Google agreed that Psion has a valid claim to the trademark and started banning advertisers from using the term. But it’s arguable that the damage was done. “Mini-laptop,” “mini-notebook,” and “cheap-ass ultraportable” just don’t have the same ring as “netbook.”

I’ve never been a huge fan of the word, because it implies that these laptops are only good for surfing the web, and not for serious computing like editing Office docs or even playing games. And they’re certainly capable of doing both of those things. But some people feel a bit more strongly about this case of semantics than I do. Case in point: The Save The Netbooks campaign. Psion has said that it will give companies, bloggers, and journalists profiting off of the netbook name until the end of March to start using a different term. The campaign is web page has a countdown clock and basically serves as a call to action to take back the word.

What do you think? Does it matter what we call these computers, or if companies keep pumping out sub-$400 mini-laptops that suit your needs, would you be satisfied calling them Slartibartfast?

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40 replies on “Save The Netbooks campaign launched (semantics)”

  1. As simple solution would be to call it a “net book”. No company can own or trademark words that are already in the english language. Just add a space between the words and go on, business as usual.

    1. Of course they can!

      Windows? Apple? Macintosh (it’s a last name, and a type of apple – like the fruit)? How about American Broadcast Company – all three normal English words – or Fox – or General Electric – or Game Boy – or American Telephone & Telegraph – or International Business Machines – or Guitar Hero…. Good night, dude! You couldn’t be more wrong!

      That said, Psion does *not* own the phrase “net book” – but I wouldn’t surprised if someone didn’t at least to own it.

  2. So obviously they(Psion) are going to target companies like my start up called ThinkNetbook as it is a infringement on the trademark right?

    Or could I get away with never using the term “netbook” on my site and just use ThinkNetbook as my company name?

    I will be a retailer selling Netbooks (I refuse to call them anything else — the term is cool)

    Much cooler than mini-notebook — what a mouthful!

  3. It is what it is and there is no renaming.

    I produce a podcast yet I own no Ipod or Apple products.
    No, its not a netcast because barely enough peoople know what a podcast is.

    A webbook explains as well as a netbook what it is but double B, double O… yuck!

    1. Plus a pair of individuals (the Kells, probably husband & wife) already applied for the trademark back in November last year: 77616571.

  4. Oh, how about a Nit-book, as in lice or crabs. That would help, right?

  5. I really don’t care what they’re called, so long as they remember where they came from. That means staying small, and staying cheap.

    Almost all the latest models lose sight of both of those factors, and I’m beginning to sympathise with the once-tedious detractors who question what the point is compared with a “real” laptop – now that the differences are becoming so minimal.

    1. Oh, and my point?

      “Save the netbooks” – not bothered about the name, but save the concept!


      1. Agree totally!!!

        We are now seeing netbooks for over AU$800 regularly. Yes, our currency has gone down the toilet lately but it’s rediculous you can buy a 14″ screen, DVD burner and 80g hard drive for $300 less than a netbook.

        They need to stay cheap to qualify for this term/usage.

  6. OK, I like “Litebook”.


    I think you are WAY off the mark with “Netbooks are about Internet, not about price (after all it’s *net*book and not *cheap*book!).” They started selling well because they were small, cheap and capable of running standard software (windows or linux). You do not have to “struggle” to install apps on an ARM processor (the I-phone proves that). Debian has an ARM branch so there are many thousands of programs that will work out of the box with no tweaking.

  7. As a metaphorical middle finger to Psion and their silent p, everyone should call them: pnetbooks. Pass the word.

    1. pWhat pA pFantastic pIdea… hey it worked, for a while, adding an “e” to the start of every other English word … then they ran out of words – or was that money? LOL

      pNetBooks it is.

      or for garden gnomes… gNetBooks.

      I’m sorry Psion, I loved your PDAs (your Series 5 had THE BEST keyboard for such a small, elegant device) but they disappeared instead of developing. Just image where they could have been if they had not only kept the word but had kept on developing the products we now see so many customers wanting… ah, sigh, crystal balls…

  8. Slartibartfast is a wonderful name. . . . .course it might conger up visions of whales and petunias as some one else mentioned.

  9. I think they should be called subnotes they are small notebooks. I never got the netbook thing. If I wanted a notebook just for internet usage I would want a larger keyboard and screen and wouldn’t care about battery life or portability.

    1. None of us understood why Internet users were expected to have kiddy fingers, but it’s become a lot more clear. Quite simply the manufacturers (incl. MS) didn’t want notebook sales cannibalised so they introduced arbitrary restrictions (screen size, capacity, processors, touch, etc.). The OEMs have since told them to go jump and full size netbooks are appearing. As I explained above, these devices will be a lot less flexible than their premium counterparts, and with good reason – for a start Windows and Office won’t run on the ARM/MIPS chips with Linux! This is a good thing though because it means they will behave more like a device (instant on, long battery life, etc.) and less like an overly complex piece of machinery. Devices defined by their small size are subnotebooks or ultraportables.

  10. So hyphenate the two words. Their trademark is *very* specific;
    NETBOOK (note: capitalization doesn’t count for this type of trademark);
    So just call their bluff: Net-Book would require a PTO legal proceeding to
    determine if it is similar enough to ‘infringe’.

    They may be copying Hormel Foods play-book, but they aren’t Hormel Foods!

    1. yesyesyes! totally agree! Can’t believe Psion is a Canadian company….what a disgrace to us Canaddiens!

  11. How about a competition for a new name? Bargain Books, Coffee House books, Smallbooks, Littlebooks, Lightbooks, Pocketbooks, Picos, Midgets, CompBooks (for computer books), etc. Maybe non-English words for small or light or even cheap. Or something entirely different such as Joey. Isn’t this the word for a baby kangaroo carried by its mother in her pouch?

      1. Aren’t we getting a bit ahead of ourselves here? Netbook’s a great term and it beat the myriad alternatives hands down. Don’t forget about the nettops too which are another increasingly important segment… SmallTop? BrowserTop? BedSideTableTop? 😉

        My point is that it’s still early days to be conceding defeat, and when you come up with a name you better work out how to tell the tens of millions of users!


  12. One day no one can write any word, just because some company registered the name. Strange world we live. If we have a falling sperm whale and a jar of petunias thinking: Oh, no, not again- then this would be a really mad world.

    1. Netbook = Internet + Notebook. It’s a portmanteau like Netizen = Internet + Citizen.

      When did price or size have anything do do with it? Most of the interest in netbooks today is around devices that are 12-14 inches in size.


      1. Trust me i understand the netbook = internet + notebook idea
        just trying to suggest alternates . why don’t we take MID and extend that ..
        MWD pronounced Mewd for mobile windows device
        MLD pronounced Mold for mobile linux device
        MMD pronounced MMMMMMD for mobile OSX device 😛

  13. I say if Psion is gonna win this fight everyone should just walk away and leave Psion holding NOTHING.

    Call’em Mini-notes and jsut keep pushing that name until Psion is standing around thinking “Damn we just screwed-up the term is now useless again.”

    1. Exactly what I’ve been saying since Psion started bitching…Thank You!

  14. It’s time to ditch the term “netbook”. PC makers have overused and abused the term in an attempt to cash in on the latest tech trend. Let them find another word and market it on the merits of their offerings.

    When companies started selling “netbooks” for $600, it was time to retire the term.

    1. Netbooks are about Internet, not about price (after all it’s *net*book and not *cheap*book!).

      The first generation of netbooks were small because the vendors (Intel, Microsoft, etc.) wanted them that way and people bitched that there weren’t enough pixels. Now the vendors have been put back in their boxes the netbook is growing up and there are 12 and 13 inch models available. These are obviously going to be more expensive but should slip to < $500 before long.

      The next generation of netbook will do what it says on the tin and not much else. Once you've got linux running on an ARM or MIPS chip you're going to struggle to even install traditional applications so you'll have little choice but to use web based apps like Google Docs. That's not necessarily a bad thing either – it means the devices will be even more reliable and run even longer on a single charge.

      Take the iPhone for example – it runs a version of OS X for days on end on a tiny battery, and yet it has a full blown WebKit browser in it. My MacBook barely survives 3 or 4 hours and yet I rarely leave the browser. Think of a next gen netbook as like a big iPhone or Android device – there'll be applets moreso than applications and you'll barely even know the OS is there.

      In summary, if you want a device that can run office then buy a notebook and if you want it small then get a subnotebook/ultraportable. If, like most people, you can get by with a browser then you'll be happier with a netbook.


  15. Personally I like the term “netbook”. I really don’t care what the name implies as I use my NC10 for a lot more than just web surfing. If Psion wants to be a ~!@#$% about it then we can just call them something else. Please just don’t call it a “mini-notebook”. They deserve their own name.

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